25/08/2016 - Analysis
On 21st June last the Hrvatski Sabor, the only chamber of the Croatian Parliament was dissolved in a vote in which 137 voted in support 2 against and 1 abstained; this became effective on 15th July following a vote of no confidence against the government which had taken place five days earlier: 125 of the 142 MPs present against 15 and 2 abstentions voted in support of the resignation of the head of government Tihomir Oreskovic, a first in Croatia. This vote was initiated by the country's main party, the Democratic Union (HDZ) which accused the Prime Minister of destabilising the government via his decisions and acts.
After the vote of no confidence the HDZ had 30 days to achieve the confidence of parliament regarding the name of a new head of government. Since this was not done the President of the Republic, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (HDZ) was obliged on 16th July to convene a snap election which she set for 11th September, which is the first of its kind organised in the country since independence in 1991. The election will be taking place less than a year after that of 8th November 2015.
According to the polls two-thirds of the Croats want early elections so that the country's political crisis can be brought to an end.
Seven months of crisis
The opposition (right) came out ahead in the general elections on 8th November 2015 which were organised some months after Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic's win (HDZ) in the presidential race on 11th January 2015 with 50.74% of the vote against outgoing head of State Ivo Josipovic (SDP). The Domoljubna Koalicija coalition (Patriotic Coalition), led by the HDZ rallying 6 other parties, came out ahead with 33.36% of the vote and 56 seats. It drew ahead of the coalition Hrvatska Raste (Croatia is growing) led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, rallying five other parties, which won 33.2% of the vote and 56 seats.
Since they did not have the absolute majority the right-wing parties negotiated with Most-Nezavisnih Lista (Bridge-Independent Lists), a party founded in 2012 by Bozo Petrov, who took third place in the election with 13.51% of the vote (19 seats). These talks led to the formation of a government on 22nd January 2016 that brought together the Patriotic Coalition and Most-Nezavisnih Lista, supported in parliament by the party of the Mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandic, called Milan Bandic 365 (MB 365).
The parties agreed to appoint Tihomir Oreskovic, a Croatian-Canadian businessman without any political experience as Prime Minister whilst their respective leaders Tomislav Karamarko and Bozo Petrov, were appointed Deputy Prime Ministers. The choice of certain personalities appointed as ministers was the source of contention. Hence revisionist historian, Zlatko Hasanbegovic, nostalgic of the independent Croatian State (1941-1945) of Ustaše Ante Pavelic, was appointed Minister of Culture.
Under the leadership of Tomislav Karamarko, the HDZ became increasingly nationalistic. Once in power the party said it wanted to control the media, give more precedence to the church and to challenge some social rights; it also cut the subsidies granted to some cultural institutions and NGO qualified as "neocommunist". It revised the judgment given to the war crimes committed by the Ustase during the Second World War. In April this year the Jewish community and the country's Serb minority boycotted a commemoration organised at the death camp of Jasenovac, symbolic of the crimes committed by the Ustase regime, in protest against the relativisation of the latter's crimes.
Relations between the two main government parties rapidly deteriorated and their fragile alliance finally came to an end. Tihomir Oreskovic's government will therefore have been the shortest in Croatia's history (147 days).
The crisis really started when at the beginning of May when the weekly newspaper Nacional revealed that Ana Saric Karamarko, the HDZ's leader's wife, owner of a communication agency had received 60,000€ between 2013 and 2015 from the lobbyist Josip Petrovic. The latter was working for a Hungarian oil company MOL, whilst discussions were underway for the privatisation of the Croatian oil and gas company INA. Over the last few years, Croatia has tried to increase the share it holds in this company (presently at 44.8%) of which Budapest controls 49%. In 2014, the Croatian government asked for international arbitration against MOL in a bid to annul an agreement dating back to 2009 which allowed the Hungarian company to become INA's major shareholder.
A return to Social Democratic rule?
The HDZ is standing alone in the election on 11th September, outgoing Finance Minister Zdravko Maric (independent) is its candidate for head of government. On 21st June last the HDZ elected a new leader in the shape of Andrej Plenkovic, a more moderate MEP than his predecessor. "Croatia needs a new approach, a modern political programme and it needs to do a strategic u-turn," he said after being elected.
"The shift of the HDZ towards the centre is a setback for right-wing populism in Central and Easter Europe," maintains the Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Zagreb Zarko Puhovski. "The illliberal trend that exists in Hungary and Poland has not taken hold in Croatia,
" he said.
For its part the SDP has joined forces with three other parties (the People's Party (HNS) led by Ivan Vrdoljak, the Farmers' Party (HSS) led by Kreso Beljak and the Pensioners' Party (HSU) led by Silvano Hrelja) within the People's Coalition. "Our coalition brings together all of those who support a progressive Croatia
,"stressed former Prime Minister (2011-2016) Zoran Milanovic who said that "work and education are the two priorities of the People's Coalition.
The coalition could come out ahead in the elections because voters might want to "punish" the HDZ, but it will have to find the support of a partner if it is to achieve the absolute majority for government. Tihomir Cipek, professor of political science at the University of Zagreb believes that the Social Democrats will try to form a coalition with the parties representing the ethnic minorities and will avoid joining forces with Most.
"Most-Nezavisnih Lista will have to change its strategy and tactics in comparison with the previous elections, when the party said it was neither on the left or the right but for the implementation of reforms, a discourse that enabled it to attract both right and left wing voters
," maintains Berto Salaj, a political expert from the University of Zagreb. Most-Nezavisnih Lista, which is undoubtedly less a party than an assembly of opponents to the two main parties, embodied by the HDZ and the SDP, might however win some of the HDZ's electorate on 11th September next.
According to a most recent poll by CRO Demoskop, published at the beginning of August the SDP is due to come ahead on 11th September with 34.4% of the vote ahead of the HDZ, which is due to take 26.4%. Most-Nezavisnih Lista is due to win 10.4% and Zivi zid (Human Shield, ZZ), led by Ivan-Vilibor Sincic, 6.4%.
Hence the constitution of a majority will be difficult if Most-Nezavisnih Lista or Zivi zid (and the others) do not join forces with one of the two "big" parties. This is however vital so that the Croats can have a stable government that can work towards improving the country's economic and political situation.
The Croatian Political System
The Croatian parliament has been monocameral since 2001, the year in which the Chamber of Regions was abolished. The Hrvatski Sabor comprises around 150 MPs. Their number varies depending on the legislature; however there cannot be below 100 or over 160 of them. MPs are elected every four years by a proportional system within 10 constituencies each of these electing 14 people.
The 11th constituency, which comprises Croatians living abroad (and who have a house in the country), elected three MPs in the last general elections on 8th November 2015. Their vote traditionally leans in support of the HDZ, but the influence of the diaspora on the election result is weak. The 12th constituency appoints the MPs representing the national minorities (3 for the Serbs, 1 for the Italians, 1 for the Hungarians, 1 for the Czechs and the Slovakians, 1 for the Albanians, the Bosnians, the Macedonians, the Montenegrins and the Slovenians and 1 for the Austrians, the Bulgarians, the Germans, the Jews, the Poles, the Roma, the Romanians, the Ruthens, the Ukrainians and the Vlachs, i.e. 8 in all).
A political party has to win a minimum of 5% of the vote to be represented in parliament. The distribution of seats is undertaken according to the d'Hondt system.
Represented in the Hrvatski Sabor at present are:
• the Domoljubna Coalition (Patriotic Coalition), that rallies the Democratic Union (HDZ) founded in 1989 and led since June by Andrej Plenkovic, the Farmers' Party (HSS) led by Kreso Beljak, The Rights Party-Dr Ante Starcevic (HSP-AS) led by Ivan Tepes, the Pensioners' Bloc (BUZ), the Social Liberal Party (HSLS), the Growth Party (HRAST) and the Christian Democratic Party (HDS), with 56 seats;
• Hrvatska Raste Coalition (Croatia is growing), which rallies the Social Democratic Party (SDP), created in 1990 and led by Zoran Milanovic, the People's Party-Liberal Democrats (HNS) of the centre left, founded in 1990 and led by Ivan Vrdoljak, the Pensioners' Party (HSU) founded in 1996 and led by Silvano Hrelja, the Workers-Labour Party (HL-SR) of Tomislav Koncevski, the Native Farmers' Party and the Zagorje Party (a region in the country's north-east) with 56 seats;
• Most-Nezavisnih Lista (Bridge-Independent Lists), a party founded in 2012 by Bozo Petrov, has 19 seats;
• Our Rights Coalition has 3 seats;
• the Labour and Solidarity Coalition has 2 seats;
• the Democratic Alliance of Slovenia and Baranja (HDSSB), a party founded in 2006 and led by Dragan Vulin, has 2 seats;
• Zivi zid (Human Shield, ZZ), led by Ivan-Vilibor Sincic who caused a surprise when he took third place on 28th December 2014 in the first round of the presidential election with 16,42% of the vote as he stood as an anarchist candidate - 1 seat;
• the Victorious Croatia Coalition has one MP.